A local company is considering the Beech-Nut cereal plant in Fort Plain as the site to develop a livestock processing service.
If it works out, the proposal would fill two major holes. It would provide a location for livestock farmers to get their meat processed, and it would make use of a facility that is to be abandoned by the Switzerland-based baby food company.
The farmer-run Northeast Livestock Processing Service has been helping farmers get on processors’ schedules in addition to other assistance since 2005.
But the shortage of sites and difficulties in scheduling, especially for smaller producers, led to plans to develop a site in Montgomery County, livestock service vice president Hal Hermance said Tuesday.
“The bottom line is that the majority of area farmers out here have gone out of the livestock business,” said Hermance, a 43-year livestock producer from the town of Florida.
Hermance said scheduling is critical for farmers trying to make some extra money by raising beef on the side.
Ideally, Hermance said, farmers would raise cattle and send them off to be turned into steaks and burger during the fall. That would provide enough revenue to buy feed for the winter.
But because major producers get priority on processors’ schedules, the farmers make an appointment at one of the few processing sites, get a date of December or January and call a week ahead of time only to hear the place is booked up.
“I’ve got people calling me all the time saying ‘I can’t make it, will you buy my cows for me,’ ” Hermance said.
Another issue is getting all the beef back — Hermance said farmers making use of the group’s services are reporting 20 percent to 30 percent more beef at the end of the process.
“It’s just bad news. We’re going to build a state of the art meat processing plant that’s 100 percent USDA-inspected. We have tons of people saying, ‘You do that, I’m going back into the livestock business,’” Hermance said.
The Fort Plain plant is situated on 2.8 acres at 101 Willett St.
The site features a 31,399-square-foot warehouse and a 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, according to assessment documents.
The proposal won a $100,000 grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute.
The grant, announced last week by state Sen. James L. Seward, R-Oneonta, and Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, will help pay for engineering studies on retrofitting the plant and support work towards gaining regulatory approval.
The New York Farm Viability Institute has been providing grant funding to the NELPSC since 2006, said Rebecca Schuelke Staehr, a spokeswoman at the institute.
The new initiative is earning support from the institute in part because despite efforts to coordinate processing, the capacity to get it done, especially for smaller farmers, is insufficient, Staehr said. “It’s something we’ve heard repeatedly.”
The Northeast Livestock Processing Service Company got its start as a grassroots, farmer-based initiative incorporated in June of 2005 with funding from the nonprofit Hudson Mohawk Resource Conservation and Development Council.
NELPSC marketing and processing coordinator Kathleen Harris said the company has grown to provide services for 87 farmer members in 22 New York counties.
“This plant will draw from several hours away because the processing capacity is marginal. There’s just not enough capacity in the state,” Harris said.
Though a deal has not yet been signed, Montgomery County economic development director Ken Rose said the county Industrial Development Agency is hoping to secure a site for the operation.
“We have been working with them for quite some time now to find them a suitable location within the county. One of the facilities that’s been on the radar screen has been the cereal plant in the village of Fort Plain,” Rose said.
“Our goal is to keep them in the county, we know it would be a very good fit for the agricultural sector in the county,” Rose said.
If the project happens, it would help Beech-Nut unload its Fort Plain cereal plant but it would mean little to the village of Canajoharie’s efforts to find a use for the massive Beech-Nut facility in the village.
Canajoharie Mayor Leigh Fuller said the cereal plant west of Canajoharie makes use of Fort Plain water and sewer services from the Montgomery County Sanitary District 1, not the services of Canajoharie.
Fuller said the village has been trying to find water users to fill in the budget gap that will be created when the baby-food maker leaves in 2010.
“We’re trying to push water in all directions, there’s no question about it. So far, it hasn’t been very promising,” Fuller said.